By NICK PERUFFO
NEW YORK — Though Princeton coach Mitch Henderson said he felt like a broken record after the game, Saturday’s 63-60 loss to Fordham at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center was less a case of deja vu than a unique new low for the struggling Tigers.
Up by ten points over a 1-8 opponent with just 3:42 left in the game, Princeton absolutely fell apart when the Rams decided to apply full-court pressure. The Tigers were outscored 17-4 from that point forward, turning the ball over five times. It was the fourth loss this season in which the team couldn’t maintain a late lead.
“I am very surprised at this group, and what happens to us at the end of games,” Henderson said. “It’s very concerning. It starts from within and we have to change it. It’s not a part of our DNA.”
Fordham coach Tom Pecora said that he wanted to speed the game up at some point, but that he didn’t want to do it to soon so as not to give the Tigers a chance to adjust and regain their composure. His plan worked to perfection.
“It sounds redundant, but they’re Princeton guys, so they’re smart.” Pecora said. “I didn’t want to give them a chance to figure it out.”
It looked as if the Tigers, despite the turnovers, were going to be able to hold on to win the game until Fordham guard Branden Frazier pulled up from the wing and knocked down a huge three with just 28 seconds left to bring the Rams to within one at 59-56.
Clay Wilson then missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Frazier came back the other way and found forward Ryan Canty under the basket for a layup, putting Fordham up for good.
“Ryan bailed me out on that last one,” Frazier said with a laugh. “I was about to go up-and-down (travel) but he was there.”
With just over a second left to play, Princeton forward Ian Hummer launched a desperation half-court heave that nearly went down for the win, but the ball bounced off the rim.
Hummer led the Tigers with 18 points and seven rebounds.
“It shouldn’t be the case,” said Hummer, of his team’s recent inability to close out games. “If we get a little pressure, we shouldn’t fold up the way that we are. I think we all need to toughen up, from top to bottom.”
Early in the game, the Rams were able to hang with the Tigers thanks largely to their frontcourt of Canty and senior Chris Gaston, a preseason all-A10 forward who had missed the previous six games with a knee injury. The duo was extremely productive, with Canty finishing with 12 points and 15 rebounds and Gaston ending up with 16 points and five boards.
In the second half, Henderson went away from his traditional rotation in favor of a lineup that included freshman forward Hans Brase playing instead of center Brendan Connolly with his four other regular starters. Brase responded with eight big points down low, and the Tigers were able to build their lead.
“I thought we just needed some inside presence,” Henderson said. “We were getting some nice shots inside. I think Hans matched up well with Canty. We made a nice run. We built a lead of ten with him in there, so I’m confident in how that went.”
Princeton will try to recover Thursday, when they take on Mercer County rival Rider at Jadwin Gym.
“I keep saying we have the pieces to do it,” Hummer said. “It’s getting old to keep saying that because it hasn’t shown up yet, but I feel like its right there. This was a really tough loss.”
Though the game didn’t go as planned for Princeton, both teams were clearly excited to get a chance to play in the beautiful new Barclays Center, the home the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
“Being on of the first college teams to play here, I know there has been a couple of round robin games already played here, but this is the first time I’ve seen it and its fantastic,” Hummer said. “Just seeing
the outside, playing inside, it’s a really nice arena and they did a nice job.”
The game was perhaps most significant for Frazier, who went to high school in Brooklyn at Bishop Laughlin.
“He went to high school four blocks from here,” Pecora said. “He’s a Brooklyn kid.”